VAC is here to stay!

Letter to the editor - The Guardian (Charlottetown, PE) - May 3, 2016

I can say with great conviction that the Government of Canada remains unwavering in its commitment and support to Veterans and to Prince Edward Island (PEI).

Veterans Affairs Canada's (VAC) Charlottetown Head Office affords unique opportunities and advantages. We rely on an extremely talented pool of individuals, nation-wide, who all work hard to ensure the needs of Veterans and their families are being met. I am grateful for their commitment and hard work and I am proud of all they accomplish. I also understand the importance our headquarters in Charlottetown has on PEI's economy.

While the editorial entitled “Downsizing at VAC?” indicates that I did not make public appearances during my recent visit to the Island, I was fortunate enough to attend several such events. For example, I joined Premier MacLauchlan and Mayor Lee at the Charlottetown Cenotaph to commemorate the 99th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, I met with the students at Colonel Gray High School, and I had the opportunity to meet with my caucus colleague Wayne Easter.

Both March 22 and April 28 editorials indicate that VAC is moving senior management positions from Charlottetown to Ottawa. In fact, none of the 39 senior management positions located in Charlottetown have been transferred to Ottawa since I have been Minister.

Veterans Affairs Canada's Head Office is and will continue to be in Charlottetown, and I am firmly committed to a base number of full-time employees that will always exceed 1,000. In fact, the Department has recently hired approximately 185 additional staff across the country, as well as more than 50 staff in Charlottetown.

Canada's Veterans and their families deserve our care, compassion and respect. Re-opening offices, including one in Charlottetown, and hiring new staff will provide better in-person services and care for the well-being of Veterans and their families.

While the Legal Services teams of VAC and Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) have recently merged in order to improve efficiencies and provide added flexibility for how resources are used, there has been no change to the size of the legal team in Charlottetown. These changes will have absolutely no impact on how Veterans receive services and benefits.

The editorial also mentions that Information Technology (IT) and Human Resources (HR) functions have been taken over by ESDC. This is not the case. While elements of both IT and HR in all Government of Canada departments have been consolidated to Shared Services Canada and Public Services and Procurement Canada, respectively, VAC continues to have IT and HR Divisions in Charlottetown. During my recent visit to the Island, I met with these dedicated folks.

In addition, the editorial states that your inquiry to the Department went unanswered. After the Department received your request, the journalist was contacted by phone twice—messages were left but our calls were not returned. The Government of Canada is committed to openness and transparency and Veterans Affairs Canada responds to all media enquiries.

The federal government is not shirking its obligations to Veterans or to PEI.

I share the passion that you show for Islanders and Veterans. I look forward to a positive and productive dialogue with The Guardian. I will do my part to ensure that happens.

The Honourable Kent Hehr
Minister of Veterans Affairs and
Associate Minister of National Defence

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